The weather outside was frightful Wednesday, the day after Christmas. The skies rumbled and dumped rain. It likely would take more than Rudolph’s shiny nose to navigate local streets.

Yet Target on Bosque Boulevard was bustling. Tom Ward, 36, an assistant philosophy professor at Baylor University, was striding purposefully through the store, past 50-percent-off signs and employees stocking shelves.

Ward was out to pick up a bench vise marked down 20 percent at Harbor Freight that would help him tackle construction of a dollhouse for his 8-year-old daughter, Edith.

His wife got wind of his plans and prepared a short shopping list. It took him to Target, making him among the seven in 10 Americans who would visit stores immediately after Christmas, according to a National Retail Federation survey.

“Believe me, I did not intend to spend today shopping,” Ward said with a smile. “And for the record, I got out before the rain started.”

Nationwide, sales between Nov. 1 and Dec. 24 increased 5.1 percent to $850 billion, the biggest increase in the past six years, according to a Mastercard Spending- Pulse report released Wednesday.

Apparel sales increased 7.9 percent, home improvement sales increased 9 percent and home furnishing sales increased 2.3 percent, but electronics and appliance sales fell 0.7 percent after increasing 7.5 percent last holiday season, according to the report.

Richland Mall manager Rosie Bean said she had not yet tallied foot traffic through Christmas.

“But I can tell you the crowds have been excellent,” Bean said.

The big-box retailers were not alone in touting this year’s bargain hunting.

Brent Bankston, who owns the Bankston’s collectibles, comic book and novelty shop on South Valley Mills Drive, said he has rarely seen a Christmas shopping season like this year’s.

“I would say my business was up 40 percent from the day before Christmas last year,” Bankston said. “My gosh, we were covered up on Monday. Saturday was big, too. As I’ve said before, we realize we’re not No. 1, 2 or even 3 on people’s list of places to shop. We’re for those needing a stocking stuffer or something for that strange uncle. About 10 days ago, this was shaping up to be a modest season, but that changed right before Christmas.”

Last-minute shopping

He said he believes life for many has become so hectic that budgeting time for shopping has become a luxury few can afford. Their good intentions devolve into procrastination, and then they scramble to make last-minute purchases.

“My son and I went to Target at about 4 Sunday afternoon, and there were hundreds and hundreds of people there,” Bankston said. “Being a 48-year-old male, I took the path of least resistance and made a mad dash through the socks and underwear to avoid the mass of humanity in the main aisles.”

Savage Finds Antiques at 324 S. Sixth St. may not appear to be the traditional stop for holiday shopping, before or after the big day. But proprietor Joey MacArthur said the store was hopping Wednesday.

“Waco has become a travel destination. It’s travel oriented,” MacArthur said. “People from around the country really do come here to spend time with their family. Today, the day after Christmas, they may be heading back home soon, so they stop by here to buy something for the road.”

He and his wife, Tami, moved to Waco from Washington state about two years ago.

“We owned a shop about 20 minutes outside Seattle, travel all over the country buying things. We visited Waco while on vacation, and my wife fell in love with it,” he said. “I made video games for years and lived for a time in Austin. I took Tami to Dallas, Austin, San Antonio, Galveston, all the larger cities, but she liked Waco the best. True story. On a whim, we walked into Dichotomy, the coffee shop, and asked about where we might find space if we wanted to move to Waco and open an antique shop.”

He said the owner replied, “I have a warehouse nearby.”

MacArthur said the shop carries an eclectic collection of merchandise, an estimated 3,300 items, from antiques to Navajo-made turquoise jewelry.

“We’re planning a trip to Louisiana in a couple of weeks,” he said. “We try to offer items not available anywhere else in Waco.”

Other retailers

Managers at several local big-box retailers said shoppers packing gift cards were in abundance Wednesday, as were those making exchanges.

Shelia Gilliam, of Hewitt, said she started her day at the Kirkland’s seasonal and housewares store in Central Texas Marketplace. Shopping for Christmas decorations the day after Christmas has become a tradition.

A relative has vowed to place a festive tree in every room in her house next season, and she stared executing the plan this week, Gilliam said.

Hannah Watson, 24, of Waco, an employee at Georgio’s Bridal, visited the James Avery jewelry store to have charms placed on her bracelet.

“I also made some returns,” Watson said, pushing a cart through Joanna Gaines’ Hearth & Hand housewares collection at Target as the threatening weather started to make its presence felt.

Despite the conditions, “It’s been crowded everywhere,” she said.

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